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Sanders rally in West Lebanon draws the faithful and the undecided

  • U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks to supporters at the Fireside Inn in West Lebanon, N.H., in one of three campaign events across the state, Friday, Dec. 27, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • With her Elsa doll held high, Capri Freeman, 6, of Thetford, got a boost from her mother Sarah Freeman to show support for Bernie Sanders during a campaign event at the Fireside Inn in West Lebanon, N.H., Friday, Dec. 27, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/27/2019 10:19:06 PM
Modified: 12/27/2019 10:19:58 PM

WEST LEBANON — Andal Sundaramurthy arrived at the Fireside Inn too late to claim one of the 400 seats for the town hall meeting that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was conducting in the ballroom of the West Lebanon hotel on Friday afternoon.

Not that Sanders, by most polls a strong contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, needed to persuade the 35-year-old farmer from Wilmot, N.H., to cast her ballot for him in the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 11.

“I already voted,” Sundaramurthy said after Sanders’ appearance. “I’m going to be out of the country on the day of the primary, so I got my absentee ballot and mailed it in. I didn’t have to come here, but I haven’t been to any of his town halls this time.

“And I just love to hear him talk.”

As with virtually all of his public events in the current presidential-election cycle and the 2016 campaign — during which he won New Hampshire handily over eventual nominee Hillary Clinton — Sanders on Friday told the audience about how he plans to level the playing field for working-class Americans, especially by dismantling a “cruel and dysfunctional” system of health care and the “corrupt” system of financing election campaigns.

“As Nelson Mandela once said,” Sanders observed of the late South African leader, “ ‘Everything seems impossible until it’s done.’ ”

While that vision prompted Grantham residents Marcy and Michael Holdowsky, both in their 60s, to vote for Sanders in the 2016 primary, this time they’re shopping among a much broader field of Democratic candidates who are vying to oust Republican President Donald Trump.

“We’re not so much conflicted as trying to learn as much as we can about the different candidates,” Michael Holdowsky said before Sanders’ arrival. “There’s a different emphasis this time.”

“I’m always open to somebody else,” Marcy Holdowsky said, adding that she and her husband were impressed by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and “other candidates who have gotten their voices lost” amid the horse-race atmosphere of media attention on front-runners.

The Holdowskys said that they also were impressed, during recent town halls in Claremont and New London, by surprise contender Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend, Ind., mayor who’s turning heads with strong polling in Iowa as well as in New Hampshire.

“Now that he’s up there, he’s been taking a lot from the other candidates in the debates,” Michael Holdowsky said. “He’s showed that he can respond coherently to any attack.”

While Lebanon residents Karena and David Sturges are so far leaning toward Sanders — “Bernie’s always been up there in my top two,” Karena said — David described himself “still a little on the fence” and open to voting in the primary for progressive U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

In addition to a number of Sanders enthusiasts who came to the rally from Vermont, Plainfield resident Thom Wolke is suffering no such doubts. Wolke met Sanders in 2008 while emceeing benefit concerts with folk singer and progressive activist Pete Seeger.

Sanders “was just so down to earth,” Wolke said. “He was a huge fan of Pete, went backstage at one of the shows and they had a great conversation. I was proud to vote for Bernie in the primary in 2016, and it’s an easy call again.”

Gubernatorial candidate Andru Volinsky, a member of New Hampshire’s Executive Council who led the legal team for school districts in the so-called Claremont decision ruling that the state formula for funding education was unconstitutional, also is back in the fold, after serving on Sanders’ legal team in the Granite State ahead of the 2016 primary. “It feels like coming home to me,” Volinsky, a Concord Democrat, told the audience in West Lebanon, “to rejoin this campaign and to endorse Senator Sanders today.” 

The Sanders campaign on Friday also said that Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham Law School professor who was an attorney on the first emoluments lawsuit against Trump, is endorsing him and would join Sanders at some campaign events.

“Bernie Sanders has built an extraordinary multi-class, multi-race movement grounded in community and compassion,” Teachout, who grew up in Norwich and went to Hanover High School, said in a news release. “He’s showing us that together, we can beat back the corruption of billionaires, beat the reckless profiteering of corporations, and beat Donald Trump.”

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